Disability

National Seating and Mobility: Ableism and “Don’t Touch My Wheelchair”

Today I had the unfortunate experience of being treated like a child, yelled at, and had my personal boundaries violated by multiple employees at National Seating and Mobility (NS&M) in Indianapolis, IN. Now, I understand that not all branches are the same, and some NS&M branches are good and treat their customers with respect and dignity. However, this was not my experience at NS&M today, or any other day I have been at that location.

I went there to have a part on my armrest replaced, as well as to get new batteries. I was first told that I could not keep my old batteries because of a contract they have with MK Battery that all batteries sold through insurance must be returned to them if they are replaced. I explained that these batteries, whether paid for by my insurance or my own pocket, were my batteries. I pay insurance premiums, deductibles, and copays every year. I paid for these batteries and I want to keep them. I asked if I could keep the batteries if they did not install the new ones and I installed them myself. I was told that was a loophole that would work. So, they loaded up the new batteries in my van and replaced the part on my chair. I was then told that I owed $910.00 for the services. I asked for an itemized bill and they told me I would get a breakdown of what I pay for once I pay. Now, they have a sign at their front desk that says “No refunds or returns”. I explained that I did not have my batteries installed, and therefore I do not expect to pay for labor for the instalation of the batteries. I insisted on an itemized bill prior to paying.

The front desk lady, Kathy, said she could not give me an itemized bill. She called the billing department who also said they could not provide an itemized bill. I’ve never been to any agency for service on anything that did not provide an itemized bill for services rendered. If you take your car to be repaired you get an itemized bill showing what work was compeleted and what is charged for labor. I expect the same from my wheelchair company. I asked to speak with the manager, and was told she would be notified. I waited, and waited, and waited…. Finally, the service technician, Andrew, who worked on my chair came to tell me that since my new batteries went through insurance, technically they are supposed to take my old batteries and put in my new batteries. However, they would be willing to just let me keep the old batteries and pay the labor fee for changing the batteries and they would “call it even”. This, folks, is called insurance fraud. They would be charging insurance for labor that did not exist, as well as charging the customer for the labor. I again asked to speak to the manager.

Next, another service technician, George Armstrong, came to talk to me. He walked in the room, did not introduce himself, and began to discuss with me why the entire armrest of my chair was changed rather than a simple bolt that was stripped. He was not sociable, and rather demeaning when explaining the situation. This was the same technician I spoke with about the issue to begin with, and who put in the order for the armrest. He stated that he expained all of this when we first met regarding the issue. My husbsand and I both advised him that the only thing he told us was that he would “put the order in for the new part”. Finally, the general manager, Alicia Campbell, came in to speak with me. I explained to her that I was not going to pay for labor for something that was not done, and I did not understand why they had ordered an entire new armrest that will cost me almost $600.00 when the only issue with the armrest was the one stripped bolt. I also asked her why they could not provide an itemized bill. Magically, she was able to provide an itemized bill for me showing that they were charging my insurance and me for labor for changing out the batteries. I explained that they did not change the batteries because I wanted to keep my old batteries and I was told I could not keep my batteries because they were paid for by insurance. She advised that I could keep my batteries even if they had changed them, and that it would not be an issue.

Suddenly, the manager of the service technicians, Aaron Miller, walks into the room and immediately begins belittling me by talking in a loud and aggressive voice about why my armrest had to be replaced. When I simply asked questions to try to better understand the situation, Aaron continued his aggressive speach toward me, and seemed extremely irritated that I was even questioning what they had done. Aaron decided to squat down right next to me and was talking very loudly in my face about why the entire armrest needed to be replaced. He stated that sometimes they need to be repalced within six months, so having the chair for two years before having this issue is good. I advised that if this is such an issue with Quantum wheelchairs, then why isn’t there any support under the armrest to help take stress off the joints that he states are bad. He then proceeded to tell me that the armrests can hold up to 300 pounds, and stood up and started pushing down on my brand new armrest in such an aggressive manner that it shook my entire chair. He even stated that he could stand on my armrest without breaking it. He stated that things like that are what wear down the armrest. I asked him to please not do that to my new armrest if that is what wears down the joints. He then proceeded to do it again….TWICE, all the while belittling me in a loud and aggressive voice stating, “This won’t wear it out unless you do it a lot”. He outright violated my space, and touched my wheelchair without permission. He even did it again, vigorously, after being asked not to.

A person’s wheelchair is an extension of their body. Aaron Miller’s behavior at NS&M today was a violation of my personal space, as well as an aggressive act toward me and my chair. NEVER touch a person’s wheelchair without their permission! I considered his actions and his words an act of agression, intimidation, and it made me feel as if he had no regard for my personal space or my feelings. The way he was speaking to me was so harsh and demeaning, it reminded me of all the times people speak to wheelchair users as if they are incapable of understanding information or speaking for themselves.

After Aaron and George left I informed the general manaer, Alicia Campbell, that Aaron’s actions were uncalled for and completely unacceptable. As an agency that serves people with disablities, they should be more diligent in training their employees on how to speak to and work with people with disabilities. They should NEVER touch a person’s wheelchair without their permission. Not only did Ms. Campbell not affirm my feelings, she provided excuses for Aaron’s behavior by stating that he always talks loudly and directly the way he was. She stated that is the way he is with everyone. Well, if that is the case, then she needs to ensure he recieves the proper training on how to interact with people, and especially how to interact with wheelchair users. I also explained to her that it is unacceptable to ask a person to pay for services without providing a bill explaining the services for which they are paying. Furthermore, it is unacceptable to charge a person for services not rendered, and I will not be paying for labor for changing my batteries since that did not occur.

She did change the bill to exclude the labor charge for the battery installation, but as a result of all of the mistreatment I received from this agency, I will no longer be using them as my wheelchair provider. I hate to have to leave NS&M, because the person who handles my service orders and billing, Kelly Bertch, is so nice and helpful with providing any information I need. However, unfortunately, she is the only person at this agency for which I have any positive feelings toward. I will be changing my wheelchair service provider, and I will never return to NS&M in Indianpolis, IN. I suggest NS&M undergo some serious training on how to work on and repair wheelchairs in a timely and correct manner, and complete some extensvie training on how to work with individuals who use wheelchairs. To all the wheelchair users in Indinapolis, IN., I caution you if you choose to use NS&M as your provider.

***Update 2/17/2020: After posting my review and blog post regarding my experience at NS&M, I recieved a call from Derek Miller, Midwest Regional Vice President, of National Seating and Mobility. Mr. Miller was very gracious in allowing me to voice my opinion, experience, and concerns. After a very lengthy conversation, I am changing my review from one star to three stars based on his responses to me. He was concerned about the treatment I received, the lack of basic customer service, and the need for changes. He offered to help make things better by advising me that he will have them send a technician to my home to install the new batteries, that still have not been installed, free of charge. He advised me that anything that is paid for by the customer or their insurance is their property, and they are able to keep whatever they want. He also asked if I would be willing to someday come and do disability sensitivity training for their staff. I advised I would be happy to help them improve their services to their customers in any way that I can. He diligently took notes about my concerns, and took them very seriously. He advised that they will be conducting training for their staff, as well as reaching out to referring doctors to get their input on how they can improve their services. We can’t change what happened, but Mr. Miller is doing what he can to make things better for customers in the future. Thank you, Derek Miller for taking the time to discuss these issues.***

5 thoughts on “National Seating and Mobility: Ableism and “Don’t Touch My Wheelchair””

  1. I’m so sorry you were treated so horrifically! That Aaron Miller had no right! But as usual, staff usually take the side of a bully. My heart breaks for you. I’m not sure I would’ve handled that as well as you did. I would’ve stirred up a big stink and made a loud scene!

    Know that there are people who support you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve found that, although some people may hurt you, if a person or company reaches out for information on how to change and do better it’s best to cooperate. Believe me, this was a difficult thing for me to learn and I still struggle with it today, but helping to make them better only helps more disabled people in the long run and that’s the ultimate mission. Remember, you can speak your truth and even disagree, but still work together to help improve the quality of treatment of others in the future. Thank you for reading and for your support. Keep advocating for your rights!

      Liked by 1 person

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